Pacific hold off late Edmonton comeback to snap winless streak

Pacific hold off late Edmonton comeback to snap winless streak

Coming into Saturday afternoon’s match at Clarke Stadium, FC Edmonton were riding high on the back of a 3-0 victory over York United on Canada Day and had the chance to propel themselves off the foot of the League table with a victory. It has been a difficult campaign for the Eddies. They are still in the hunt for a new owner and are being run by the League, which has really limited their ability compete on a level playing field with the other seven clubs in the Canadian Premier League. Their opponent’s, Pacific FC, were riding a different kind of streak heading into this mid-season clash. The purple clad club was winless in their last seven League games. In fact, they hadn’t won in League or Cup play since they beat the Eddies on May 14 on Vancouver Island.

The age-old adage that, “You don’t change a winning side” was employed by the hosts. Coach Alan Koch sticking with a flexible 5-4-1 that gave both his wingbacks the freedom to support the attack, especially in counter attacking situations. James Merriman made just the one change to his starting XI following their event filled 3-3 draw with Cavalry FC. That change came in the form of Kunle Dada-Luke being replaced by Jordan Haynes at left back in Pacific’s 4-4-2. Merriman was also unable to call upon the services of Manny Aparicio following his sending off versus the Cavs.

The first half kicked off under sunny skies and with an encouraging home crowd in attendance to back the Eddies in their orange strip. Pacific had their backing as a number of the Lake Side Bhoys group made the trip to wave flags and sing songs in support of their club. Both sets of fans were treated to an intriguing match!

In the 13th minute it was the Eddies who had the ball in the back of the net after some good build-up on the left wing that played Marcus Simmons into space. His left-footed cross found Mamadi Camara at the back post for a tap in. However, the celebrations were short-lived as the referee’s assistant had his flag up for offside. After the match coach Koch and his staff were adamant that the goal should have stood because Camara was onside. It was the first contentious moment of the proceedings and it wouldn’t prove to be the last.

Just over 20 minutes later there was another great chance for the hosts to take the lead. Pacific’s George Mukumbilwa had made a foray toward the final third but gave the ball away cheaply. Simmons pounced on the opportunity and launched a precision ball up to the on-running Wesley Timóteo. The Eddies winger controlled it brilliantly in his stride but instead of attempting to chip Pacific’s ‘keeper, Callum Irving, he attempted a low shot from the top of the box. Irving did well to get down and make the save, but it was an opportunity squandered for FCE.

Edmonton were made to pay for their missed chances. In the 39th minute Pacific got the match’s first goal. It came from good work from dynamic winger Gianni dos Santos on the left side. His cross found Josh Heard at the back post but he could only loft the ball back in front of goal. Bicou Bissainthe’s weak attempt at a header fell to Sean Young who did well to smash it into the back of the net on the volley.

Four minutes later and the visitors had doubled their lead. Once again it was a dos Santos cross finding Heard on the opposite wing. This time Heard outpaced Simmons to get goal side and then used the inside of his right foot to deftly loft the ball over the on rushing Andreas Vaikla and the Islanders went into the break with a convincing 2-0 lead.

A frustrated Koch made a triple substitution at the break, switching to what seemed to be more of a 4-5-1 and an attempt to get more control of the game in the middle of the park. The second interval started with the sides trading half chances before the west coast team extended their lead even further.

On the hour mark it was a sequence that started and ended with Djenairo Daniels. The big Dutchman collected the ball in midfield and pirouetted to avoid a challenge and maintain possession. He then ran at the Eddies’ backline and played a through ball to fellow striker Alejandro Díaz. The Mexican went in alone on Vaikla and the Edmonton ‘Keeper went down early which enabled Díaz to juke to his left and then play the ball back across goal (and behind Vaikla) where Daniels had space for the easiest of finishes. Once again Koch and FCE felt aggrieved as they strongly believed the through ball from Daniels to Díaz was offside but the goal stood.

At this point it seemed as though Pacific would simply see the game out and claim the three points but the home team’s season is one that has been marked by resiliency and their character began to shine through.

In the 79th minute Irving rolled the ball to Thomas Meilleur-Giguère and his attempt to play out of the back was a poor pass that went right to Gabriel Bitar. To TMG’s dismay Bitar hit a shot from the top of the 18-yard box that beat Irving low to his right to put the home side on the board.

Four minutes later the Eddies once again had the crowd on their feet. A long ball from substitute Cale Loughrey’s left foot found Camara running in behind the Pacific defense. Camara seemed to have learned from Timóteo’s shot selection in the first half and calmly chipped Irving to make for a frenzied final seven minutes of the match.

Unfortunately for the Eddies no bunnies ran onto the pitch and their rally fell just short.

After the match Koch was “pissed” at the two calls that he is convinced cost his squad back-to-back victories and the chance to get off the bottom of the table for the first time this season. It was another example of why the CPL needs to invest the funds required to have Video Assistant Referees and the technology needed to do so.

Putting that to one side, the team that hustled a little harder and was more clinical in front of goal came out on top. Pacific did enough to end their winless drought and maintain their spot in the top three clubs in the League. They now prepare for York United away on Friday, July 15 while the Eddies begin a six-game road trip that sees them first travel to Hamilton to take on Forge FC on Tuesday, July 19. It is another chance for them to work their way up the table.

Authored by: Zachary Meisenheimer

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